Many of the differences of living in India hit you hard and fast. But some of them emerge slowly over time and creep into your everyday life.
One such change was the availability of sports teams for my kids. Now I promise this is not a post about how my kids are rock stars and how they were cheated by not having adequate sports opportunities in India. It is not an “if only” post. India us taught a lot of things including how to adjust. And in many, many ways stepping back was a tremendous gift.
Before we left the U.S., my kids played soccer year round and swam year round. In between they played basketball. They were busy every day, every night, and every weekend. That came to a screeching halt with the plane when we landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Sports seasons are only eight weeks long at best and we missed the swimming season totally and got on the wait list for soccer. But, you guessed it, we never got called to teams.
The first real season my son could participate in was track. Eager to get moving again, Bear signed right up. He had done a tiny bit of track in the U.S. – maybe three or four practices and one mini meet – but he was by no means accomplished.
One of the things that makes me the most proud of my kids is not when they succeed but how they handle new challenges. They are not intimidated by trying new things and they are not intimidated by not being the best at something. It is really awesome to watch. If you are someone who is mainly concerned with your child winning, step back and watch how they lose or what they won’t try because they are afraid of losing. It really is a more important skill. To be graceful in defeat. I would argue it will get you much further in life than always winning.
But I digress.
Bear went to practices and got better and worked really, really hard. It was not easy and he didn’t particularly enjoy all of it. But he never gave up. He showed up everyday in the 100 plus degree heat and he ran and jumped and threw the discus. He was way out of his comfort zones.
The team was narrowed down to seven athletes. And would once more be narrowed to the final five official members of the team with an alternate. Bear was one of the seven.
He continued to go to practices and gave it all he had. When the final five were chosen, Bear was number six. And he was justifiably disappointed. He had done his best and it was not enough to compete. He was not used to that at all.
That night there was a party for the 6th graders at one of the kid’s houses. I was thrilled that he wanted to go because he was already starting to separate from his disappointment.
But this was a new experience for me. I did not know the parents who were hosting the party or the kids or the neighborhood or what to expect.
I told Bear he could go but that I would take him and I had to meet the parents to know that adults would be home. This wasn’t his day at all. Not only did he not make the final team, now his mother had to accompany him to a middle school party in the land of everyone else is driven by their drivers and dropped off. It turns out that out of 100 kids in 6th grade, only two parents went in to make sure parents were there. It was truly a whole new world for me.
But he knows me well and did not fight it.
What a gift that ride to the party was.
Because I was not driving, I had the chance to talk to Bear without any distractions. We both sat in the back seat in the dark and talked. Even the dark was a gift because he did not have to really look at me, just listen and periodically mumble, “I know Mom”.
I told him how proud I was of him for trying something new and that I was amazed by how he handled this whole move to India. I bored him with my thoughts on how he should still be so proud of himself because it is the journey that counts and that I completely understood why he was disappointed. I even said that he had a right to be disappointed but that he had to understand that the coach was picking the best team he could. It wasn’t personal. And it did not mean he didn’t do an amazing job.
Then we heard…tap…tap….tap.
We both knew what it was. It had already become a too familiar sound. Someone was knocking on our window to ask for food or money. We were becoming a little immune to it, sadly. Immune is not the right word – maybe we were allowing ourselves some distance from it.
This is one of the hardest things to admit about poverty. When you are living in the middle of it everyday, you allow yourself to ignore it. You feel helpless and there are times when you will actually be irritated by the fact that someone is struggling. At times, you will become dismissive and even rude to a person who is starving and homeless. Even a young child.
Gulp. You will actually resent that someone needs help. And you resent it not because you don’t care but because you feel so overwhelmed by it. That is the hard reality of living comfortably in a poor country. You cannot pretend real poverty does not exist because you slide through it every single day but you have absolutely no impact on it. Helping doesn’t change it and ignoring it makes you sick to your stomach.
We both turned to the window and could not see anyone there.
Bear looked down to find a man on a small, wheeled wooden box. He had no legs. He was unnaturally thin and dirty and had an empty look in his eyes. He had to brush his hands along the hot asphalt to move himself forward.
This is another thing that is incomprehensible. Even when someone who is living it is tapping on your window. You have to make a quick decision. Ignore it or help. I am not proud of how many times I chose “ignore”.
People who are really poor with absolutely nothing are willing to maim themselves because it makes them more competitive in the begging world. The more pathetic you seem, the more help you are likely to get.
We do not know if this man hurt himself or if he had an accident or if he was just born this way. But sometimes people really believe that their best option is to become as desperate-looking as possible and will damage their bodies to achieve that.
That is about as hopeless as it gets.
Bear and I looked down at the man and looked at each other and I simply said, “how much would that man love to be an alternate on the American Embassy School track team?”
That quickly became one of the many lessons we learned.